World class dining at Chautauqua's Athenaeum

Chef Ross Warhol

On occasion I am fortunate to be invited to a special lunch or dinner. Typically it is a benefit, sometimes it's a press event. On this occasion, it was a friendly gesture.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to meet (and subsequently befriend) Bruce Stanton and his wife, Laurie. They are well-traveled foodies, who happen to own and operate The Athenaeum Hotel, located inside the stunning grounds of the Chautauqua Institution. Coincidentally, we highlighted this beautiful Victorian hotel in the July-August issue of Spree.

It was in 2009 that Bruce and Laurie invited me to co-host a farm-to-table dinner. Held in late October after the season at Chautauqua was over, it was a delightful meal and a perfect weekend to take in the view and changing autumn leaves. Not only were the locally-sourced ingredients featured at the center of the meal amazing (I often comment that this was the first time I had ever eaten chicken that tasted like, well, chicken), but the chef, Ross Warhol, turned out to be a young prodigy whose talent and surprisingly humble personality turned me into an instant fan.

Flash forward a year or so, when Warhol submitted his application to compete in Nickel City Chef's second season. He lost by only one point to Chef Adam Goetz of Sample in the competition I consider the best of the sixteen part series, Battle: Ricotta.

You might feel like Warhol's name is familiar, and that may be because we featured him in our popular On the Line column in the April 2011 issue of Buffalo Spree. There we were able to share details of Warhol's extensive training. In addition to graduating from the Culinary Institute of America at the top of his class, he has also followed the path suggested by great chefs to anyone who wishes to have a successful, top-of-the heap culinary career: travel, work hard, learn as much as you can, and move on when it's time to learn something new. Using this theory as a guide, Warhol has worked in the kitchens of some of the world's best restaurants: The French Laundry, Ubuntu, elBulli, and Alinea.

Home for the summer, Warhol has returned to the kitchen of the Athenaeum, where he prepares three meals a day for the hundreds of hotel guests, cooks for the Institution's president and esteemed guests several nights a week, and tends to the hotel's rooftop garden and the various farm-to-table programs offered throughout the season.

Last week, Spree's editorial staff took a field trip to CI, and were invited to the Athenaeum for lunch. Much of our afternoon was spent on the wraparound porch of the hotel, overlooking Lake Chautauqua. Not a bad way to spend a breezy August day. The hotel's staff was very attentive and polished, and a special nod of appreciation should go to dining room manager Jason Toczykdlowski for superior service and his affable nature.

The meal itself was full of whimsy, which really only works if the required technical skills are there to back it up (and they certainly were). I could write a thousand words noting the nuances of each dish, but since that would be truly unfair to readers, I have instead listed only a single note for each offering. The Athenaeum's fall farm-to-table dinner happens in September. If this doesn't entice you to make a reservation, I'm not sure anything will!



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